Watch for sneaky persuasion techniques

Tomorrow is Election Day, and the candidates are out in full force trying to squeeze out that last-minute victory. You may have gotten tired of the constant barrage of politics a year ago, but politicians can teach us a lot about persuasion techniques used throughout the marketplace.

NPR recently aired a story about common manipulations used to convince people to say “yes” — whether it be at the polls, in the office or at the checkout line. With the holidays right around the corner, BBB recommends you learn some of these techniques and watch out for them while shopping.

Here are a few techniques that marketers commonly use:

  1. “Up to” sales numbers. The FTC released a report this summer showing that when retailers advertised savings “up to” a certain amount, most consumers believed they would save the maximum amount. The BBB Code of Advertising states that, typically, at least 10 percent of merchandise on sale should achieve the maximum savings. But, be wary of “up to” savings claims, and don’t expect to save the maximum amount.
  2. The emotional appeal. The typical example of this is a “limited edition” collector’s item. It may be a cheap piece of plastic, but by tying it to an emotional event — a vacation or wedding, for instance — the retailer can increase the price significantly. Another common emotional ploy involves fear — “Buy this disinfectant to protect your family from illness!” Before you fall for a sentimental sell, evaluate your needs and the items on their own merit.
  3. Stroking the ego. Smooth salespeople often tear down your defenses by offering flattery or flirting. You’re more likely to say yes to someone you like, and the retail world knows this. Be wary of any merchant who is too free with the compliments, and take a few moments to evaluate any purchases.
  4. Putting on the pressure. “Limited time only!” “I’ve got another buyer lined up.” Whatever the excuse, retailers know that by creating a sense of urgency, you’re more likely to buy. If you’re not completely comfortable with a purchase, don’t be swayed by this kind of pressure. Better to risk losing a deal than being taken for a ride.
  5. Fear and then relief. Studies show that people are more likely to say yes after experiencing something scary and then finding out their fears were unfounded. For instance, one study had a researcher startle shoppers by touching them on the shoulder. Once the shopper turned to find there was no danger, another researcher made them an offer. Those who had been startled were more likely to agree than those who researchers left alone.
  6. The foot-in-the-door. This technique involves starting a conversation before making your sales pitch. So, instead of starting the conversation by asking you to buy a new face cream, the salesperson will start by asking if you have any concerns about your skin. Sometimes, the beginning question can be even more basic, like asking for the time. The purpose is to start a conversation. People are more likely to say yes to someone they’re already talking to.

Tell us about any manipulations that you’ve fallen for or find particularly distasteful in the comments.